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It’s no secret that Twitter has been imploding ever since being taken over by billionaire cringeposter Elon Musk. So it should be no surprise that Facebook parent company Meta is now launching its own Twitter clone, Threads, which promises to suck in slightly different ways than the blue bird site.The myriad problems with Twitter have been well documented, and the launch of Threads is proof that Meta smells blood in the water. The app is a direct response to the mass-exodus of advertisers under Musk, whose increasingly blatant transphobia and racist conspiracy-peddling has left many users of the dying platform pining for a social app that is not overrun with Nazis and QAnon conspiracists.
Meta’s sales pitch for Threads seems to be simply that it’s not Twitter. It’s a text-based social network that is not actively falling apart, created by a monopolistic tech company known for privacy abuses and run by the second worst guy on earth. Even by these extremely low standards, it is not good.
To understand Threads, just imagine all the worst parts of Instagram and Twitter. The interface looks and feels like Instagram’s comments section, and there is no way to view posts chronologically on the timeline—or even to limit your feed to posts from accounts you follow. Instead, users see text posts based on what an invisible algorithm determines is most likely to make them engage and stay on the app, so they will see more ads. Also, you can’t post ass. Threads is enforcing Meta’s usual policies, which forbids nudity or anything it determines to be sexually suggestive—a hugely unpopular position which infamously killed Tumblr, continuously bans sex workers and queer people, and has nearly destroyed other platforms like OnlyFans. Presumably, this is to avoid scaring away brands and cringey influencers, which seem to be the most visible users on the platform in its first 24 hours. Using these old and unpopular choices for a new social platform speaks to a tech industry that is increasingly desperate and out of ideas. After all, this is the same company that has spent billions unsuccessfully trying to convince people to have work meetings as leg-less avatars inside a virtual “Metaverse” no one wants to use. But it’s also a cynical admission that when it comes to competing with Twitter, Meta doesn’t even need to try.
Of course, there’s also Meta’s non-Twitter competitors, BlueSky and Mastodon, which both use decentralized models that avoid the pitfall of a single corporation determining which posts you see. But Mastodon is built on a technology stack almost as old as Twitter’s, and has largely failed to achieve widespread adoption despite several mass-exoduses from Twitter. BlueSky is more promising, using a brand new protocol called AT which promises to let users not only create their own instances of the service, but filter their feeds with custom algorithms, instead of settling for one centrally-controlled “master algorithm” that prioritizes engagement above all else. But despite another large influx of new users over the holiday weekend, BlueSky remains an invite-only private beta, which in theory gives Threads the opportunity to siphon more users from the Twitter wreckage. So far, Meta’s biggest advantage is that it’s drawing from the 1.6 billion users it already has on Instagram, which is captively tied at the hip to Threads in a way that prevents users from deleting their Threads account without also deleting Instagram. Currently, the most active users are celebrities, corporate brands, self-promoters, and cringey TikTok influencer types—the exact kind of annoying people many of us used to go on Twitter to avoid. In an ideal scenario, it would keep those users away from platforms like BlueSky, where discourse is sparse and most users just want to have fun posting with their friends.
Even if its launch is well-timed, it’s hard to see Threads as anything but a frail attempt by Meta to return to its glory days. As a platform, it seems to have no selling points apart from that it was launched from the decaying avian corpse of another, even worse platform. The fact that Twitter had to become a broken shithole run by a racist clown in order for Threads to become viable speaks volumes about not only Meta, but social media in general.The company’s foray into text-posting also comes at a time when social media as a whole seems to be in a prolonged death spiral, with the engagement and ad-driven business model of the past 15 years reaching a crisis point. Does anyone really want another billion+ user social network with all the same nightmarish problems? Will anyone actually use four different Twitters, or will we all simply splinter off into whatever service fits each person best?No matter what happens, it seems clear that the power vacuum of social media is already getting very confusing and weird. Faced with its own failing platforms, the company formerly known as Facebook is clearly desperate to restore its fading relevance. But it’s extremely telling of the tech industry as a whole that this is only possible due to the cartoonish mismanagement and rapid decline of another, even shittier company.